This is 2018 and I believe that marketing (and sales) in Bangladesh is entering a highly exciting and new phase of development: post-modern marketing. From 2020 onward, survival of brands in Bangladesh might actually depend on their ability to embrace this post-modern marketing culture.
There was a time when marketing in Bangladesh was in its pre-modern stage. I believe that period lasted till the 1980s. It was a time when marketing was done by a few creative people. There was no exact science on marketing. Marketing strategies were formulated, if at all, through intuitive experiences. Most marketers did not know much about how marketing worked. Sales were merely another name for distribution.
In the 1990s, a positive change came. Bangladesh entered into the era of modern marketing. Technology started playing its part in the formulation of marketing strategy. Research was being done to estimate the market size, to identify consumer segments, and even to understand the need-state of the consumers. This was a highly logic-based, structured approach. The 'science' of marketing is what modern marketers depended fully upon. This is the time when marketing was about product, price, promotion, placement.
Modern marketing was definitely better than pre-modern marketing. It was a holistic approach. It was more adaptive. It could drive results with far better efficiency. Using modern marketing approaches, consumer experiences were improved. Instead of just 'selling' products to them, brand marketers started thinking about 'engaging' the consumers. It is not a coincidence that modern marketing came to Bangladesh along with many other new waves: globalisation, media proliferation, parliamentary democracy, non-government organisation (NGO) movement, self-sufficiency in food, export boom etc. It was a time for Bangladesh to give itself a more solid shape.
In Bangladesh, the two companies that have contributed the most to establishing modern marketing (and sales) practices are, according to my consideration, Unilever and British American Tobacco. These two companies have imported modern marketing ideas from their global operations, trained the resources, and formalised marketing (and sales) guidelines, brand literature, research methodologies etc. It is because of this we see so many ex-Unilever or ex-BAT executives heading the other large multinational and national companies in Bangladesh today.
That said, modern marketing had its own limitations. It assumed a flat ecosystem. It depended highly on fixed values, and traditional media platforms. In this approach, BRAND was at the centre of the universe, preaching to the consumers, telling them what is right and what is wrong. Broad generalisation was considered to be the only way to secure economies of scale, and therefore, the strategies were often quite static.
But the wheels of time have turned again. In last ten years, the fast gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and the subsequent mass adaptation of digital technology have brought Bangladesh to the doorsteps of a new era. In this highly connected world, the consumers of Bangladesh are no island. They are very much the part of a multi-dimensional ecosystem, a multi-purpose world. Traditional media do not reach the whole of the target consumers any more. Consumers do not see brands as Gods, and demand customised solutions rather than one-size-fits-all solutions. They want brands to be interactive, and immersive. Loyalty is almost dead, consumers do not hesitate much to change brands if a newer, better solution emerges.
This is the era of post-modern marketing. This is where the science of marketing (and sales) must meet the art of marketing (and sales).
I have talked to many expert marketers of our country, and they all seem to agree to this. However, some of them think that post-modern marketing is digital marketing. I beg to differ. Digital marketing is definitely an integral part of post-modern marketing (more than it was for modern marketing, for sure), but post-modern marketing is larger than digital marketing. It is about creating an immersive reality where the consumer gets the experience that she/he wants, at the time she/he wants, in the most effective way she/he can get. This goes beyond machine learning, augmented reality, and automation. This is about driving marketing initiatives with the help of cutting-edge technology, while being absolutely respectful of individuals: their mood, their environment, their needs. Cohesion is the key.
Today, a strange thing is happening. Consumers are becoming more analytical, but they are also becoming more emotional. They are being creative, and they like brands to de-mystify themselves. The challenge of a post-modern marketer is to become more open and more awesome at the same time and to be nimble with marketing strategies while maintaining the highest degree of consistency in terms of quality delivery.
How do we go about post-modern marketing then?
1. Accept the fact that consumers are liable to irrational influences. Measuring, objective analysis and verification may not be enough. We need to understand consumer psychology and its influencers better. There is an urgent need to understand and practise brand archetypes, for example.
2. Therefore, use symbolisms more effectively. Create genuine stories.
3. Embrace the concept of hyper reality. Consumers do not buy products for its basic benefits. They buy products for the experiences that the product will make possible for them to participate in.
4. There is no 'mass' to target anymore. Fragmentation is a reality: consumers are split in small groups, at times they are just alone. Therefore, mass media are not as effective as it used to be. Focus more on media that are able to target consumers individually.
5. Today, supply does not create its own demand anymore. Don't just bank on advertising. If you are not offering a product that is satisfying a deep-seated unmet need, huge spending will not get you anywhere.
6. Each consumer today has several independent personalities. They switch roles even more frequently than they change their clothes. Do not fall for stereotyped 'consumer persona.' Go for the hat that the consumer wears when it comes to the category concerned, the product/services concerned.
Is that all that we need to know about post-modern marketing? I am sure, it is not. Post-modern marketing is a living, breathing entity, it is evolving as we speak. And in Bangladesh, we need to work even harder to contextualise it keeping our culture, society, and economy in mind.
But it is true that the tipping point has come. Consumers' view of brands in Bangladesh is changing. Trust is at an all-time low. Community is fragmented. Social structures are falling apart. Post-modern marketing needs to rebuild communities based on like-mindedness of desired experiences.
We, the Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and marketers, need to work fast to adapt to these changes. Every evolution takes some tolls. The fittest survive, the unfit perishes. In this transition towards post-modern marketing, we have to be more open, innovative, and rationally irrational to help our brands survive.
Khandker Swanan Shahriar is currently the Managing Director of Keymakers Consulting Ltd, a leading business think-tank. He has 15 years of experience as a marketer and researcher. Shahriar has worked in many countries including Bangladesh, Singapore, India, and Indonesia.
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